The next big freighter?

Airbus will deliver the first A330-900neo to launch customer TAP Portugal this summer. That airplane will carry passengers, but a freighter variant may follow. Photo: Alex Cheban/Wikimedia.

What are the widebody freighter options going to be five years from now? As things stand today, those options look to be diminishing rapidly.

There are currently four active production freighter programs: Airbus offers the A330-200F, while Boeing offers the 767-300F, 777F and 747-8F. But not only is the clock ticking on all four of these programs, it is not clear they are all “active” in the sense of the manufacturers being willing to take orders. Boeing may have a few 747-8F and 767-300F slots available between now and 2022, but, as we have reported, unless Boeing makes some major production-line adjustments, both of those programs are almost fully booked for the next five years. After that? Well, by 2022, the 767-300 will be over 35 years old, and the 747-8, while based on newer technology, looks increasingly likely to be cut from Boeing’s offerings once the current backlog is delivered.

As to the A330-200F, it will be 25 years old by 2022, but the question of age is moot, because it has been years since Airbus booked any orders for it, and that is unlikely to change. It was a very good passenger aircraft, but it simply does not fit the needs of most freighter operators.

Which leaves the 777F as potentially the only production widebody freighter available in five or six years.

Or does it?

How does an A330-900neo/stretch/F sound?

Okay, stupid name. If Airbus does jump back into the freighter game they will undoubtedly come up with something better, but the real question is: Will Airbus return to the game?

As we have often reported, we believe that Amazon, SF Express, and UPS have all been in negotiations with Boeing about 767-300Fs. Negotiations which, so far at least, have borne almost no fruit. UPS did manage to place a four-unit order, and SF is believed to have seized a few, but that is it.

We also believe that Airbus has been in talks with some of these companies, floating the idea of a medium widebody production freighter based on a stretched version of the A330-900 – the re-engined successor to the A330-300.

While Airbus’ recent ventures into the production freighter business (A380F and A330-200F) have been unsuccessful, an A330-900F could make sense – both to the manufacturer and to potential customers.

  • Airbus has taken only 214 orders for the passenger variant, so additional orders generated by a freighter would be welcome.
  • Since much of the engineering has already been done – for both the A330-200F and the A330-300P2F – the cost would be far lower than for a new program.
  • The A330-900, based as it is on the -300, would be a much more appealing freighter than the -200F. Express operators want volume, and the -900, particularly if stretched, would certainly offer that.
  • The list of potential customers does not stop with Amazon, SF, and UPS. DHL has already committed to eight freighter-converted A330-300s, so adding -900Fs would not be surprising. Likewise, both Atlas Air and Air Transport Services Group have said they are looking at the A330-300P2F as an option when feedstock for freighter-converted 767-300s becomes scarce. Whether they would be equally interested in a production -900 is unknown, but we expect they will give it serious consideration.
  • An A330-900 freighter would not directly compete with the much larger, longer-range A350-1000F that Airbus may eventually offer.

So, will we soon see an A330-900neo/stretch/F taking wing in UPS or Amazon livery? Or DHL or SF livery?

Well not flying soon, but it wouldn’t surprise us to hear Airbus announce an A330-900F program in the near future.

Those interested in learning more about the current and future availability of widebody freighters should join us at Cargo Facts Asia 2018 in Shanghai, April 23-25, where the subject will be explored from many viewpoints. For more information, or to register, go to CargoFactsAsia.com.

  Like This Post